Ethan and I will be leading a discussion called Emergent Democracy Worldwide at the Digital Democracy Teach-In in San Diego on February 9. Ethan has posted a critique of Jim Moore's Second Superpower and my Emergent Democracy paper. He asks some important questions. One of the questions, which gets developed more in the comments is what made Salam Pax successful? One of the most difficult things that the we face is getting people to care about people in developing nations. Somehow, Salam Pax was able to get Americans to read his blog and get them to care in a way that statistics and objective reporting could not.

Salam Pax wrote English like a native, he was relatively well off, he shared a cultural context (his music, his humor) with his American audience. What else? Will a Salam Pax of Congo emerge? Ethan talks about the current small percentage of privileged elite who currently blog and how this is not representative. I think that Salam Pax is also not representative of the average man in Iraq. From a practical perspective, I think that we are going to have to start by finding a small number of interesting and articulate translator/bridges in each of the developing nations. These people, like Salam Pax, will most likely come from privileged positions, but if they, like Salam Pax strive to recruit more bloggers and help provide voices to those who are less technically or otherwise not currently capable of expressing themselves, this is a start.

I think the two key pieces to work on first are to report on issues in under-reported regions and to help people care about issues in these regions. As Jack Kemp once said, "It doesn't matter what you know, if you don't care." Salam Pax was able to help many Americans care and know more about Iraq. How can we seed this in other countries and increase the scale. Iraq is much wealthier and advanced that many developing nations and it is unlikely that there is a Salam Pax in every country that needs a voice. I'm looking forward to talking to and discussing with Ethan and others who are in or work in developing nations to try to think of ways to make the technology more accessibly and their voices more interesting to the rest of the world.

Ethan's post is quite long and he asks many other questions that are quite important, so I suggest you read it. I thought I would highlight just this point for now.

6 Comments

I am going to sound naive here but it seems to me that there is very little connection between Salam Pax's "success with the american viewers" and the problems of the third world. Iraq became popular for obvious reasons and under-development was most definitely not one of them (unless of course you are convinced that rebuilding Iraq was the prime motive for the war etc).

Nobody in the States or in Europe is ever going to pay any attention to some upper-class insider talking from e.g. Sudan or Somalia - unless western media (especially tv) suddenly become crazy about either Su or So. Do you see this happening? I don't. The media is nothing but an endless reality-show and we need a Survivor-hero to care.

Good luck in your conference :-0

I am going to sound naive here but it seems to me that there is very little connection between Salam Pax's "success with the american viewers" and the problems of the third world. Iraq became popular for obvious reasons and under-development was most definitely not one of them (unless of course you are convinced that rebuilding Iraq was the prime motive for the war etc).

Nobody in the States or in Europe is ever going to pay any attention to some upper-class insider talking from e.g. Sudan or Somalia - unless western media (especially tv) suddenly become crazy about either Su or So. Do you see this happening? I don't. The media is nothing but an endless reality-show and we need a Survivor-hero to care.

Good luck in your conference :-0

"Nobody in the States or in Europe is ever going to pay any attention to some upper-class insider talking from e.g. Sudan or Somalia - unless western media (especially tv) suddenly become crazy about either Su or So."

I at least have become interested in Venusalen politics from reading a few blogs, even though I personal never saw any major news coverage of the situation until much later.

(I can't speak for everyone, of course)

I don't know what you mean by the next Salam Pax, but there are much more iraqi bloggers out now. Besides, Salam doesn't seem to blog so much these days.

And to the remark that the only reason that we are interested in these people is because of the war, and that we will lose interest after - of course! You make it sound hypocritical when it is actually obvious. How many people have been paying attention to Sri Lanka lately? Thousands more have died in that conflict than Americans or Iraqis. Why aren't we covering it? Whats happening in Trinidad now? Its hard to know what the future holds. No one is paying attention to Trinidad now, but if we indulge the notion that it may become important, than we will deal with it then.

I see I double-posted...

Daniel: yes, *you* became interested. Recondite info from a few extra-aware blogs is always welcome. It will never compare to the Pax-bonanza though. To shorten my argument, I will just say that I don't believe universalist humanism to be a prevailing sensibility in most people. Too bad it takes a major media whipe-up to spur that along a bit.

G.R.: yes, I stated the obvious. Also, I am not sure who you mean by "we". Media story-makers perhaps? The ones going nuts about Mrs Jackson's tits? I am sure we'll be hearing lots more about Trinidad soon.
The reason "we" are not covering Sri Lanka is equally obvious: "we" can't begin to care. The only reason "we" are hearing so much about North Korea horrors all of a sudden is because they've got nukes and "we" are indulging the possibility of this being a threat to "us". Etc.etc.

Yes, all this is obvious indeed. Whether it's a matter of hypocrisy or not is actually irrelevant.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

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